According to our research, cufflinks' first recorded use was in the 1700s, though there's pictorial evidence in the hieroglyphs of King Tut's tomb to suggest that they were in existence even before the shirt.
Previous generations of men were using ribbons and tape ties to fasten the holes made at the base of their shirt sleeves and it was only to the wealthy that the luxury of handmade links were available. In the middle of the eighteenth century, mass production rendered them ubiquitous, a trend that was aided by the introduction of the double or French cuff in the 1840s, a feature of shirt tailoring that remains today. In those days, however, and as a symbol of mourning, it was common for a gentleman to carry the hair of a lost loved one beneath the glass on his cufflinks.
It wasn't until the 1880s that a US inventor patented a device based on civil war cartridge shell-making that mass production of one-piece collar buttons and links took place. By the 1920s, enamel links were de rigeur, very much inherited from the mass migration of Russian Faberge craftsmen to Europe following the Russian revolution. The development of low cost plastics manufacture replaced enamelling in the 1930s, however, and by the 1960s, Swank Inc. were said to be producing 6 million pairs a year.